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"Three fifteen. The players line up against a living-room wall, and begin. No intro, no babbling, no mingling with Joe Public; it's straight into Gilberte and Marie laying the reproaches on their man."

By Laurence Rémila


"And the comediennes, they're… pretty?"

The cavernous voice is that of cult writer Jean-Jacques Schuhl, and the phone call his second in five minutes. Clutching my mobile, I examine the actresses and they look at me, having guessed it's him again. After a moment of smiling hesitation, I tell him: "Yes, they're pretty." The girls look at me, bemused. "Okay, thanks." Schuhl hangs up.

Three o'clock, Friday May 23rd, in a sixth-floor apartment somewhere in the Tenth. A group of us is crowded into my bedroom, which has been transformed into a dressing-room for the occasion. The occasion? An itinerant reading of the screenplay to La Maman et la Putain, Jean Eustache's post-'68, post-everything film-manifesto, to mark the thirtieth anniversary of its notorious Cannes screening. The film lasts three and a half hours, and we've set aside half a sunny spring day to recreating it.

The audience has started filing into the living-room, while the cast remains huddled in the bedroom, looking over first lines or making last-minute adjustments to costume. The actresses who've just been called pretty are Audrey Vernon, the former Séance au choix presenter who's to read the part of Véronika (the promiscuous nurse a.k.a. "La Putain"), Magaly Godenaire, another actress who's to read Marie (the girlfriend, a.k.a. "La Maman"), while Isidora Pezard, a contributor to lit-revue Cancer, is to read that of Gilberte (the ex). Facing them will be writer-stroke-philosopher Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, wearing a black Christian Dior suit and a bowtie he doesn't know how to tie. He's to read the part of Alexandre, the garrulous youth who won't choose between Marie and Véronika. With them is Emmanuel Caron, my fellow conspirator in this one-off reading. He'll be reading the stage instructions and indications.

Three fifteen. The players line up against a living-room wall, and begin. No intro, no babbling, no mingling with Joe Public; it's straight into Gilberte and Marie laying the reproaches on their man. The door is left open, in case of late-comers: forty or so people signed up to be here, and the audience so far is fifteen-strong. Thirty minutes later, it's time to head down to the Valmy, the Canal Saint Martin café we're to continue the reading in. The whisky generously laid out by mine host is untouched.

At the café, a few more spectators join us. And sat at a table outside is a bearded figure I recognise: writer Maurice G. Dantec, there with Audrey Cluzel of I'd barred her from entering my apartment, having dropped her from my oh-so exclusive circle of friends, and now feel slightly bad as this means they've missed a rather special opening sequence. I learn this is Dantec's last day in Paris, after a month spent away from Canada (the country he's exiled himself to) and am glad he could make it.

The Valmy proving too noisy to read in, we repair to the gallery next door, who've agreed at the last minute to host part of the event. As we wander in, a third call from Schuhl. "I'd like to hear them recite some of it." The players are sat in a corner of the gallery, and the audience sits spread out across the floor. I'm sat holding my phone out, so Schuhl can hear them, and it turns out that some of the dialogue now being spoken refers obliquely to him. About twenty minutes pass, and it's time to move on.

There's an untidy exodus across the Canal and over to writer Jean-Luc Bitton's flat on the other side. On the way, we stop in front of some hospital gates for a brief scene in front of the hospital Veronika is employed at. Once done with that interlude, the audience, which is still growing, takes over Jean-Luc's roomy balcony, while the players read from atop a thick wooden table. The sun shines bright, which it hasn't done these past few days, and the whole thing goes without a hitch, which wasn't really expected either.

Once done there, we go our separate ways, having announced that the next rendez-vous will be at the Café de Flore at seven thirty. Four of us (Audrey, Mehdi, Emmanuel and myself) walk over to the République taxi rank, and we all seem to be on a rather pleasant giddy high as we make our way over the mythic Saint-Germain establishment where several of the film's key scenes were shot. Just before, we'd said goodbye to our Marie, Magaly, as she has to appear in some Feydeau play this evening. We tried pointing out to her what Feydeau is worth in the face of Eustache (fuck all), but to no avail.

Seven o'clock, upstairs at the Café de Flore. We've been sitting here for a while now, waiting for a brand new Marie. She isn't showing, and we're starting to panic. Last night, when our initial actress had to pull out, we called EVERY number of EVERY last soul we VAGUELY knew who had anything to do with "showbiz". In the end, Audrey found us Magaly, who'd be free in the afternoon, while actress Coralie Revel convinced a friend of hers to come back from the Cannes Film Festival a half-day early to take part in the reading. And now we're sat here waiting for her. And panicking.

People start trickling in. One of the first is Jean-Jacques Schuhl -- who briefly listens in on us rehearsing, exchanges pleasantries with Mehdi, and leaves -- followed by René Biaggi, a member of the Eustache gang who's name-checked in the film. And then, twenty minutes before starting-time, in comes a tall brunette in a glam evening-dress. Our Marie, finally. She introduces herself - "Vanessa Lapierre" -- and we rehearse frenziedly.

Three of the players, Mehdi, Audrey and Vanessa, sit up on a window-sill in the corner, their legs dangling above us, so that they can be seen by everyone. Dantec, it's been decided, will read a small part, and once everyone's in place, we begin. Mehdi hijacks the reading, launching into scenes that had been cut out to save time, and it all goes off beautifully. It's the closing third of the film, all recrimination and angst, and finishes with Véronika's famed soliloquy, where she reflects on her life and then goes and vomits off-screen.

It's over. Over six hours after the first scene, we disband, exhausted and elated. "What next?" someone asks. "God knows…"

Photos taken from Jean-Luc Bitton and Emma Rebato's website, Post-Report.


PS: Andrew, can you believe this? Still not a SINGLE e-mail from a gurl! What gives? Tell me if you can! These Anglo-girls in Paris, they're dating successful, charming, well-hung DUDES? Right (scoff, sneer)… I SEE the blokes -- French farts, yet -- they go out with: business school dorks in pink shirts who visit their mammas every Sunday! They MUST be out for better! Please advise. (And please DON'T print this bit, like you did last time. Thanks.)

Laurence Rémila has been living in Paris for six years. A freelance journalist, he writes for sundry serious titles he won't list here, as well as The Idler and French monthly Technikart.

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